Random Acts of Kindness Week

Apparently, there’s a special week devoted to pouncing on people and doing something nice to them.  And since I don’t blog about Valentine’s Day, this seems a suitably sappy substitute.

I learned about this happy event from Steve Schimmrich, who thought he might be mugged but was handed a badly-needed dollar instead.  And it got me to thinking about other random acts of kindness, either performed by or performed on me.  I’ve been the beneficiary of more random kindness than I dare to believe I deserve.  You, my darlings, do me more kindness than I have a right to expect.

You started out strangers, but became my friends, all because you started out by doing something randomly kind: giving a nice comment, or offering advice, or including me among the geobloggers as if I was a really real geoblogger myself.  You’ve done me wonders, and I’ll probably never be able to repay your kindnesses back.  It’s a good thing there’s such a thing as paying forward.

Complete strangers have swooped down in times of dire need and done things they’d probably laugh off as inconsequential if I tracked them down and thanked them.  I’m sure the waiter at Denny’s all those years ago, who made me laugh at one of the darkest times in my existence by presenting a ketchup bottle as if it were expensive champagne, didn’t think he was doing anything particularly meaningful.  Just goofing off.  He threw me a lifeline, got me one foot up on a climb out of a deep black hole, and all it took was something so silly.

There were the people in Chicago, a whole crowd of them, who gathered round me in a store when I frantically asked after the location of some particular venue, and ensured I knew exactly how to get there in time to see Neil Gaiman and Will Eisner for the first time in my life.  They changed my mind about big city downtowns.  They made my day.

A thousand other things, big and small, done to a stranger by a stranger, that have kept me from believing humanity is beyond hope.

George sent me a rock hammer.  Suzanne performed rescue operations.  Cujo invited me to the theatre.  Lockwood volunteered for field trip duty. And there have been 10,000 other things, great and small, that you’ve done, things that make me a big squidgy mass of gratefulness and love.
I’ll probably never know most of the things I’ve done.  I don’t tend to think of myself as a random kindness person.  But I suppose I’ve done a few – there’ve been group photos taken in special spots, which probably count.  There was one gentleman who was placing an order with me, who had the most mono of monotones, until I asked him what was wrong.  He told me I wouldn’t want to hear his problems.  I told him to fire away, if it’d make him feel better, and by the time he finished I was very nearly in tears – he’d had The Worst Year Ever.  At the end, he sighed, said he did in fact feel a little better, and his voice gained a bit of animation as we finished getting his business forms ordered.  I’ll never forget him.

The point of all this rambling is, stuff like this isn’t hard, and it’s not expensive.  A dollar here, a listening ear there, a moment of time to snap a group photo or give directions or elicit a smile.  Most of us do these things already.  But at least having a week devoted to it means we can actually think about the kindnesses we do.  And perhaps we’ll find ways of doing even more.  More kindness = a better world.  It’s worth aiming for, especially for us cynical bastards who find it too easy to accentuate the negative. 

I just want to tell the men something important, here: if you’re swooping down on strange women to do them a kindness, try to avoid doing so if there’s no one else around.  We’ve read about too many serial killers, you see.  You might offer to help with carrying grocery bags and find yourself maced out of paranoid self-defense.  And ladies: random acts of kindness should also be done in public wherever possible.  Remember how Ted Bundy lured his victims.  And all of us should probably be careful to ensure parents understand what we’re up to if we’re performing a RAK for a child.

Have I mentioned I’m a bit cynical?

Anyway, those caveats in mind, go forth and do good, just as you already do, whether you know it or not.

No, I KNOW I’m Odd

I don’t think there are many call-center workers whose main rave about their new computer is the fact that it can pull up 5 pdfs at once without breaking a sweat.  There’s probably only a small subset of laypeople who would get so excited about finding a treasure trove of papers on the South China Sea Summer Monsoon that they have to get up from their computers and do a victory dance.

Yeah, I’m that weird.

I get asked at least once a month if I’m in college, because I’m either hauling in a ton of tomes to take notes from or babbling about some aspect of science that just captured my imagination.  “Nope,” I have to answer.  “Just research.”  Whether for a blog post or a bit of the book I’m writing doesn’t really matter.  Fact is, I do this shit for fun.  And I love it.  If I didn’t, I could blog about bullshit and I’d just make shit up willy-nilly for the novel.  Other authors have done it before, with some measure of success.

People frequently don’t believe me when I tell them I don’t want to go out because I’m looking forward to delving into something dense, technical, and sometimes containing equations.  The only other folks who understand are usually in grad school or headed that way.

We got into a brief conversation about television at work recently.  One of my coworkers told me 30 Rock was a great show.  I had to admit I didn’t know what 30 Rock is.  He proceeded to explain, and then told me I should watch all these other sitcoms.  “Haven’t got the time,” I said.  He told me I could make the time.  Sure, I could.  I could get even further behind on my science-blog reading than I already am (too much great stuff!).  I could set the novel aside at the height of the winter writing season.  I could put the papers down, shelve the books, and sit in front of the boob toob to catch up on pop culture.

Yeah, and I can quit smoking any time I want, too.  My cat could stop randomly trying to kill people.  And we could have a winter without rain in Seattle.  Yup.

We’re all odd in our own special ways, but there are moments when I realize how out of step with the general herd I am.  It’s not easy to notice sometimes.  You, my darlings, my dearest online friends, you’re usually raving about the same things I do.  You start drooling the moment Callan Bentley posts his Friday Fold, you can’t wait for Seafloor Sunday, you laugh your arses off at astrology.  Data delights you.  You wax enthusiastic over various and sundry science papers and you get your geek on.  Among you, I don’t stand out so much.  No, it’s more like jogging behind, trying to keep up with your science geek awesomeness.  And those of my readers who aren’t scientists at least appreciate the beauty of it, enjoy reading up on how the world works, and can spend a few hours lost in more than the latest pop culture phenom.

That’s why it’s such a rude awakening when I get to work and these conversations are going on wherein I’m reminded that no, not everybody’s a geek.  In fact, the vast majority of us aren’t.

And I’m just not sure how to talk to people like that.  So I don’t, usually.  I have a more nefarious scheme.  I’m going to write a novel that’s salted through with science-y goodness, and the readers might not even notice it at first because they’ll (hopefully) be so caught up in the characters.  I’m hoping to hook them.  I’m hoping to lure them.  And then when they burble something about how realistic this bit was or how did I possibly imagine this other bit, then I’ll pounce.  A-HA!  SCIENCE!  Yes, Victoria, there is such a thing on Earth as a solution valley.  Yes, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our imaginations, but fortunately, science has discovered quite a lot of them.  That’s what I hope to get across: the universe is a fascinating place without me having to make up a lot of shit. 

(And I just found another pdf that has me drooling while I looked for a good link for solution valleys.  ZOMG.)

The corollary is that finding this fascinating shit out is fun.  It is rewarding.  And it’s a far better use of one’s short time on Earth than obsessing over Survivor.  Although if that’s your bliss, fine, follow it.  Not all of us can be geeks.

But, y’know, I’m odd, so I think I’ll just go curl up with some improving book and get my geek on, thanks ever so much.

Overdose of Cute, Plus Snow!

Some of you like cute kitteh photos.  Well, this post is for you.

My cat, who is spawn of Satan at the best of times and something Satan would flee from at the worst, has been overplaying the cute card over the past few weeks.  I believe she’s plotting something.  Or perhaps she’s just saying thanks for giving her a big ol’ sheet o’ paper for Xmas:



Nah.  Plot.

More disgusting cute after the fold, plus a rare glimpse of Seattle snow.

When I was busy researching ice caves, she decided to “help.”



Yes, that is me trying to take notes on a notepad held vertically against my chest.  It was that or get my hand chewed off.

You know, it was tough doing this with the old computer.  With the new one, it’s impossible to get anything done when she wishes to snuggle.  I’m going to have to invest in one of those extra-wide recliners someday, preferably one with a laptop desk attached to the side.

Usually, though, she’s sacked out on the couch.  She’s got her preferred spot, and she finds a myriad of ever-more-adorable positions to lie in, trying to tempt me away from my work.  And she succeeds.  I end up spending too much time fiddling with the camera, trying to determine if I can get supreme cute results from handheld twilight mode:



Or mebbe the flash:



More experiments will have to be conducted.

And, finally, snow!  When it snowed overnight, I decided to see if handheld twilight could capture the dark, snowbound scene:



Yup.  Although I should’ve fiddled with the white balance more.  It’s hard to do, since the stupid outdoor lights always choose to either go on or off right after I’ve set up the shot and then pressed the shutter.  Argh.  Still.  Snow.  In the dead of night.  Pretty awesome, that was, especially since it started raining early that morning and all went away before I had to worry about venturing out.  That’s how I like snow!

Wish I’d caught the Little Hell Beast when she was doing her “What’s this white shit all over my porch?” routine, but she lost interest before I could aim.

So there you are.  Your overdose of cute for the week.  If I suddenly stop blogging, you’ll know that there was a plot, and it involved grievous bodily harm.  But I doubt she’ll do anything to me before summer.  She knows other people will feed her, but only mommy risks death and dismemberment to cuddle her on cold nights.

In Which I Babble About My New Machine

After nearly six years, I’ve finally broken down and bought a new computer.

My previous machine was a refurb HP Pavilion that had a whopping 50gb of memory and a processor that can only be described as not up to snuff.  Oh, it was fast when I got it (replacing an HP tower from the mid-90s, mind you).  And it served me faithfully for many a long year.  But the time had come.

I meant to get a Sony Vaio.  But whilst shopping for new machines for both myself and my intrepid companion, this one at Staples caught my eye.  It’s an HP Pavilion dv7-4171us.  It had all the proper specs and a companionable keyboard.  And it was on clearance.  I walked out of the store, looked at a couple of reviews online, and marched right back to the store.  It’s a good thing Staples is within walking distance.

And I’ll tell you something about this computer.  I hated it last night.  It’s not the old familiar machine, it’s not got my stuff on it, and keep in mind that I hadn’t used a new operating system or much new software in absolute years.  I’d been running an ancient version of Windows Media Player, had to have an external soundcard because its own card had crapped out, we were still on Windows 95….  It was old.  But it was what I knew.  And now here’s this young whippersnapper having the audacity to look all new and different.

Not to mention, Monotype Corsiva has vanished from the face of the earth.  Open Office hasn’t got it.  The new trial version of Word hasn’t got it.  The starter version of Word hasn’t got it.  And I refuse to cough up hundreds of dollars for a software package I’ll only use the word processor and occasional spreadsheet on.  So I spent an outrageous amount of time last night trying to figure out another way to get my favorite font, only to admit defeat in the end.

And the Windows Media Player graphic equalizer has odd ideas about how it should deal with my music.

And then I had to spend hours fixing the fonts in my writing journal, which is up to nearly 800 pages.  Can’t just do a simple highlight-and-change-all because I use a variety of fonts to draw attention to various bits.  Note to Microsoft et al: stop getting rid of fucking fonts.

So I hauled me arse in to work after a measly three and a half hours of sleep still hating life, the universe, and everything.  I dragged the computer along.  I neglected my in-between-call reading in order to load shit from the external hard drive and start mucking about.  I figured out how various bits worked.  I got shit loaded and arranged.  I discovered new and interesting bits.  I got used to the way it works, and started enjoying some of the newfangled features.

I discovered the Beats Audio equalizer. Holy fucking shit.  I am sitting here right now listening to Lesiem through my Sennheiser headphones, and I can hear bass.  ZOMG WTF?!  This, my friends, is what happens when you get a powerful sound card.  Still needs some tweaking, but mother of god, this is amazing.

There’s still kinks to work out.  Some genius of a designer decided that a laptop could have a bulgy battery, which means there’s a weird ridge digging dimples into my knees.  I need a right-angle adapter for the headphones, because the only jacks are on the side, and the computer’s already almost as wide as my chair – tack on the three-inch jack, and you’ve got issues.  I’m still trying to figure out how to sit comfortably with it – the fit’s quite different from the old one.  The screen needs manipulating before the color’s true.  But those are minor things.

And now that I’ve got the sound and word processing mostly sorted, I’m just a little bit in love.  I’ll even learn to love that battery pack.  We’re on battery right now.  We have been for hours, and it’s got hours more left in it.  Damned thing certainly provides the juice.  Once I have one of those laptop desk thingies to keep it from dimpling my knees, we should get along fine.

And the screen’s big enough that I can set it on the recliner’s footrest and still read it.  I shall have to investigate the possibility of a wireless keyboard so I can really get comfy.

So, upshot: I’m finally on a modern machine.  My, how things have changed.  And let this serve as fair warning: I might gush about it occasionally.  But right at the moment, I’m gonna go put it to work writing a novel, baby, yeah!

The World Is Weird

Check out what I came across whilst pulling images off of Google for the valley I’m working on:

Blood Falls

So at first, I was like, “Is that some sort of dye experiment gone horribly awry?”  But no.  It turns out to be something quite different and altogether natural, no matter how unnatural it looks:

The Taylor Glacier is unique among the Dry Valley glaciers in that the presence of subglacial brine near its terminus results in geomorphic behavior more like that of a temperate or polythermal glacier. Ice-penetrating-radar data indicate water or slush below the glacier corresponding to an 80-m depression in the bedrock topology at ~4km up-glacier from the terminus. This depression is below sea level and forms what is believed to have been a third lobe of Lake Bonney. When the chemically reduced subglacial brine flows from below the glacier and is exposed to the atmosphere, it becomes oxidized and a red salt cone, known as Blood Falls, precipitates at the northern end of the glacier terminus.

Sometimes, I get the impression that no matter what weird, wacky shit I attempt to invent, the world’s gonna clear it’s throat at every turn and say, “Been there, done that.”  At least I’m not ashamed to admit that the vast majority of “unique” stuff I’m writing about will have been filched from the real, live, complex and delightfully bizarre universe around us.

Los Links

Bored on a holiday weekend, are ye?  Had your fill of turkey, football, annoying relatives, Black Friday, all that rot?  Well, that’s good, because I’ve got lots o’ interesting links I’ve been meaning to do something about but never managed to get round to blogging.

Pour yourselves a glass of something tasty and hopefully strong, and nibble away at some delights, my darlings.

The “Lost Women”: science popularizers and communicators of the 19th century:  We sometimes forget that, even in the days when women were pretty much third-class citizens, a few of them broke out of the barefoot and pregnant mold and managed to make some impressive, not to mention important, contributions to science.  Here’s a start on remembering them.  And, in case that wasn’t enough for ye, here’s my paean to a few of the Unsung Women of Science.

For those who might’ve missed it the first, second, and ten billionth time this got handed round the geoblogosphere, Ole Nielsen has an excellent explanation of How Drumlins Form.

And while we’re on about glaciers, might as well go From end to end: Traversing the Terminal Lines of Long Island.  

Hannah Waters has the definitive post on Developing a scientific worldview: why it’s hard and what we can do.

Remember when we were all supposed to have flying cars?  How about this instead: Trees Infused With Glowing Nanoparticles Could Replace Streetlights.  Pretty damned awesome.

Here’s an excellent read for anyone who loves reading, writing, or understanding how the brain works: This Is Your Brain on Metaphors

And, finally, Orac’s got a thought provoking (and snarky) post up: So Al Gore didn’t invent global warming? Who knew?

That should keep you busy enough.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch every single Harry Potter movie filmed to date because that’s the sort of idiotic thing a writer does when they’re blocked…

Scenes from the Frozen Life

There’s been this fly on the porch since the storm started.  He appears to be frozen in place, but he’s been veeerrryyy slowly crawling up the side of the post.  He’s moved about three or four inches in two days.

Just cuz, I decided to take pictures and foist them upon you:



And a side view, just cuz:



I’ve been tempted to bring him inside, but I’m afraid a quick thaw will kill him.

Tonight, I managed to capture the raccoon.  Not well, due to lighting conditions (i.e., none), but I got ‘im:





Still no idea what he’s finding out there, but he’s been back at least twice so far, so it must be good.

No turkeys to offer, alas.  But I’m sure by the end of tomorrow, you’ll have seen quite enough of those anyway.

Happy night-before-Thanksgiving, everybody!

Frozen Hydrology on My Geology

Three words: butt-ass freezing cold.

Seattle’s not equipped for this Arctic air shit.  Inch or so of snow and ice, and the entire city shuts down.  Having already been in one car accident this year, I decided to forgo a second.  The car stayed home, and I hoofed it to work.  At least the sun was shining, although it was too fucking cold for the birds to sing.  A coworker mercifully dropped me at home tonight, where I promptly immersed myself in a tub of hot water until all the bits thawed.

Yesterday, the cat and I lounged around inside and watched it snow.  Well, I watched it snow – she watched the crows playing in it and developed aspirations of becoming an apex predator:



More Seattle snow scenes after the fold, including what the weather’s done to my balcony-crops.

This is what the cat thought she could catch:



I don’t know why that part of the complex became the corvid meeting place, but there were about 50,000 of them down there at one point.  Then a raccoon later in the night.  ‘Tis a mystery.

The trees on the ridge got all snow-coated:



They’re still frosted, because it never did get warm enough to budge the snow today.

And while my porch is sheltered, that didn’t protect my Richmond Beach finds:



Aaaand the obligatory picture of snow in action:



It’s lovely as long as you don’t have to drive in it.

So now, we’re continuing on with our Superman marathon courtesy of Encore On-Demand.  Unfortunately, this means watching Superman III.  I can’t call it an abortion, because abortions frequently save the lives of mothers and are therefore a positive good, whereas this movie has, so far, only one redeeming feature: the line, “Pay attention, people, I’m about to take a human life!”  That didn’t make it worth it, but it’s quotable.  And I hear Christopher Reeve’s performance as Bad Supes eases some of the pain, so we’ll stick with it. 

If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, you’ll know that bad movies can, indeed, kill.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t had your fill of snowy Northwest photos, Cujo’s got a nice one of his backyard, and  Dan McShane’s got a lovely shot of the Skagit Valley.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve hit one of those points in the movie that threaten to make me involuntarily bulimic…